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Ken Livingstone blames Hitler comments row on 'embittered MPs'

Published 02/06/2016

Ken Livingstone said the furore was being used to deflect attention away from the Labour leader's policies
Ken Livingstone said the furore was being used to deflect attention away from the Labour leader's policies

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has blamed "embittered MPs" for branding him a Nazi apologist over his controversial statements about Hitler.

Speaking at the Oxford Union, he refused to apologise for the comments and claimed Jeremy Corbyn "had no say" in his suspension from the Labour party.

In an appearance dominated by questions about anti-Semitism, Mr Livingstone stuck by his remarks that Hitler supported Zionism as "historical fact".

He told members of the famous debating society that the furore was being used to deflect attention away from the Labour leader's policies.

"I think this has been largely manufactured by people trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn," he said.

"If someone says something anti-Semitic they will be expelled but you can't expel someone for telling the truth."

He said it was "damaging" to suspend someone for saying something "factual" and compared his comments to "1+1=2".

Mr Livingstone said Mr Corbyn, who has branded his remarks "inappropriate", had been told by unelected party officials that he had been suspended.

"Jeremy had no say in this," he added.

Asked by the union's president, Robert Harris, if he could understand the outrage and disgust he had caused, Mr Livingstone said: "I put all of this in my autobiography five years ago and no one said anything then.

"Embittered MPs (think) here we can start screaming at Ken Livingstone, 'Nazi apologist' and so on, and create all this stuff about anti-Semitism."

He explained he had been attacked throughout his political career for his forthright views and has always refused to say sorry for his controversial opinions.

"When I have gone through lots of people saying I should apologise to this reporter or apologise for saying Hitler was a supporter of Zionism... I have never apologised," he said.

He defended his record on the issue while running the capital, insisting his tenure from 2000 to 2008 is "the best record in modern times" in terms of the drop in anti-Semitic incidents.

"In this latest anti-Semitic row, I couldn't walk down the street without being stopped by people saying, 'don't give into them, we know what you say is true'.

"One Jewish woman said, 'don't these MPs read history?'"

The Labour party has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism in recent months but Livingstone said he had never heard any complaints before a row erupted in the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC).

In February, Alex Chalmers, an undergraduate at Oriel College, resigned as co-chairman after claiming a large proportion of members "have some kind of problem with Jews" and some sympathise with Islamic militant group Hamas.

Reports of slurs and songs sung that were said to amount to anti-Semitism were reported by the university's Jewish Society, known as JSoc.

However, a review conducted by Baroness Royall found the OULC was not institutionally anti-Semitic but called on the student club to examine its culture and create a "safe space" for discussion and debate without discrimination.

She said: "I do not believe that there is institutional anti-Semitism within OULC.

"Difficulties however face OULC which must be addressed to ensure a safe space for all Labour students to debate and campaign around the great ideas of our movement."

"Working class" Mr Livingstone claims he has been unfairly smeared throughout his career as a politician.

"The establishment don't want people like me or Jeremy in positions of power. They will do anything to stop us," he said.

Mr Livingstone explained how his latest controversy erupted on April 28, his wife's 50th birthday, in response to the question "Is what Hitler did legal?".

"I pointed out there were two phases. The 1930s, working with Zionists to move Jews to Palestine, then some time about 1941 he went down this other route of genocide," he said. "They are two quite distinct periods."

He also defended blaming Tony Blair for the London bombings on July 7 2005 that killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.

"I don't blame him exclusively but he was told by the security services, if you invade Iraq it will increase our risk as a target for terrorism, and we knew from the day of 9/11 London was a target," said Mr Livingstone.

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